New Bookstore Owners Bet On Community Support


Late last year, Southampton Village’s sole bookstore got new owners and a new name. The shop is now known as Southampton Books, after former BookHampton employees Daniel Hirsch and Gregory Harris bought the business from longtime owner Charline Spektor.

When Ms. Spektor announced in the fall that she was retiring from the book business and closing her BookHampton stores in Southampton and East Hampton if she could not find buyers, Mr. Hirsch and Mr. Harris both wanted to seize the opportunity.

Mr. Harris was a bookseller at BookHampton for nine years, and in 2008 he started his own online business selling rare and collectible books, Restaurant of the Mind Books, based out of his home in Sag Harbor. Mr. Hirsch, of Water Mill, had been working at BookHampton for only about a year when they decided to buy the business together, but he shared Mr. Harris’s love of literature and entrepreneurial spirit. Giving the purchase careful consideration, they determined that they could run a successful bookstore, even in the age of e-books and Amazon.

“I’ve always wanted to have my own bookstore,” Mr. Harris said, noting that he also did not want to see Southampton lose its bookstore. But buying BookHampton was more than a dream fulfilled—it was also a business decision.

“After running the numbers, it was just a no-brainer,” Mr. Hirsch said. “It made a lot of sense.”

“The business is changing, with e-books and everything, but independent bookstores have been doing very good in the last couple of years,” Mr. Harris said. He attributes bookstores’ success to supportive communities.

“More indies have opened this year than have in the last couple of years,” Mr. Hirsch noted. He said that Southampton Village is the perfect place for one. “It’s a very literary community for one thing, and it’s a very loyal community. They like to shop local because they want to support the neighborhood.

“Everyone has been so positive since we opened up,” he continued. “People are just so happy that the bookstore is staying around. Every day someone comes in and says how happy they are that they can still buy books in town. It’s been a really nice reception.”

Becoming a business owner is a little scary, Mr. Harris admitted, but he said he is mostly excited about it.

Working in a bookstore is one thing. “It’s a completely different feeling sitting in a store you own and talking to people knowing that the books that you’re literally giving them, they’re taking home and reading them based off what you said,” he said. “I love doing that, and I love putting books in people’s hands. It’s what I wanted to do.”

Mr. Harris studied criminal justice and psychology in college and took the LSAT exam, but chose not to attend law school. Mr. Hirsch studied history and then attended law school, but he did not go on to be a lawyer. He pursued personal investing instead.

“You see the books in the store reflecting that path that we’ve both taken,” Mr. Hirsch said.

Since taking over the store, they added some personal touches, such as new tables and displays, and more physical changes will come. Mr. Hirsch said they have also changed up the inventory, section by section.

“We try to have something for everybody, in the sense that we have the stuff that you’ll find in the other bookstores, but there’s also an air of mystery,” he said. “You come in here and you’re not certain what you might find on the shelf. We like to have that feeling of hidden gems around the store. So there is something for everybody, from the obscure to the mainstream.”

Mr. Harris has begun stocking his rare book inventory at Southampton Books, though he still has many more to add to the shelves. Between his apartment and a storage facility, he has about 4,000 books, including first editions, signed copies and other hard-to-find books.

The owners plan to engage the community in a number of ways, including both in-store and off-site events. They are starting books clubs and plan to host discussions and roundtables on “bookish topics,” such as what “Games of Thrones” on HBO means for the George R.R. Martin books on which the television show is based. A book signing with “The Winter Girl” author Matt Marinovich is planned for Saturday, February 27, at 4 p.m. Sag Harbor author Chris Knopf, whose new book “Cop Job” is the sixth installment in his Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mystery series, will sign books on Saturday, March 12, at 4 p.m.

“We love to include the local authors as much as possible,” Mr. Hirsch said.

Southampton Books’ first off-site event will be held Wednesday, March 2, at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. Australia’s R.A. Spratt, the author of the children’s series “Nanny Piggins” and “Friday Barnes,” will read and sign books.

Southampton Books is located at 16 Hampton Road, a street that Mr. Hirsch is happy to be on, especially considering the addition of the Citarella food market in 2014 and White’s Apothecary and Starbucks last year. “Citarella was a real game changer. It really changed the whole atmosphere of the block,” he said.

They also hope Southampton Books will be a bustling facet of Hampton Road, and the village as a whole.

“We want to be a real hub of the community,” Mr. Hirsch said. “We want people to feel like they have a place where they can come, relax, and find a great book. Like we were saying before, it’s a really good community for a bookstore, and that literary tradition—it’s great knowing that it’s here for you waiting to come off the street.”

Though the BookHampton store in East Hampton was, and still is, for sale, Mr. Harris and Mr. Hirsch agreed that the best route for them right now was to start with just one bookstore of their own. A second location could come down the road.

“I’m very happy that the boys got the bookstore,” Ms. Spektor said Monday. “They’re very enthusiastic. It takes a lot of enthusiasm to have a bookstore—a lot of optimism.” She praised the new owners for their terrific rapport with the customers, and said they are both sincerely connected and seriously attuned to book culture.

Ms. Spektor said she expects to close on the sale of her East Hampton store in just a few weeks.

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